Making Fabulous Lead Sheets
By Tristan Klopp
Having a strong lead sheet is one of the first and most important steps to running an effective rehearsal and putting on a tight show. I've played original music for multiple artists, and also led bands through playing my own, and the quality of the lead sheet plays a big factor in how the show goes. A great lead sheet makes your band confident in you and the music, while a poor lead sheet is frustrating and ends up confusing everyone. So, here are some questions to ask yourself as you are putting your music to paper.
Is the lead sheet musically correct?
This seems simple, and it is! But it's worth mentioning. Small mistakes in the lead sheet can snowball into a lot of confusion in rehearsal. I've made the mistake of thinking "one little mistake won't hurt, the band will just skip over it." This is sometimes the case, but not reliably enough to let it slide. Of course, every band is going to make mistakes, but it is essential to give your players a piece of music that they can fall back on and trust. Know the music well, triple check it, and if possible have someone else look over it before rehearsal (especially if you aren't an instrumentalist).
Does the lead sheet effectively convey the roadmap of the song?
You have options for how to communicate the roadmap of your song. To do this well you should have a strong musical understanding of how repeats, first and second endings, and codas work. In Finale, you can find all of these options in the Repeat Tool.
Using the Repeat Tool, right-click to select repeats/first and second endings, and double click to select various Codas.
Often, when I finish a lead sheet, I'll listen through a recording of the song while reading the lead sheet to make sure that I got the roadmap right. Are the repeats in the correct spot? Are there extra measures where there shouldn't be? Most importantly - does it make sense?
Is the lead sheet 1-2 pages?
This is a smaller thing, and at times can be a matter of preference, but here's my reasoning. If your band is playing a show and your players are using music stands, a 2-page lead sheet can fit on the stand without anyone having to turn pages. And since most players don't have a spare hand to flip pages easily, I try to keep my lead sheets shorter for the sake of these players.
So how do you do this? By using your repeats and codas effectively. Is your intro musically identical to your post-chorus interlude? Then there's no reason to write that music twice! Sometimes it becomes like a puzzle, and with practice, you can become really efficient.
Of course, there are many songs that will require longer lead sheets, but if I can keep things in the 1-2 page range I like to do so.
A Good Rule Of Thumb...
Think like an instrumentalist. Your lead sheet should serve the band well, which will in turn give your audience/producer the best experience possible.
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